American manufacturer ‘Caterpillar’ crawls into Cuba’s Mariel port

CGTN, Michael Voss reports, November 4, 2017

Heavy-equipment giant ‘Caterpillar’ is about to open shop in Cuba, becoming the first American manufacturing corporation to do so. The announcement comes despite moves by U.S. President Donald Trump to make it more difficult for Americans to visit, and do business, in the country.

The Caterpillar dealership will be based in the Special Development Zone currently under construction around Mariel, a new deep water container port about 40 kilometers from Havana.

It’s the Puerto Rican Caterpillar franchise, Rimco, which has obtained permission from U.S. authorities to operate in the area, and the Cubans signed off on the deal at this week’s International Trade Fair.

“We are going to have a Caterpillar dealer there where we are going to be able to sell and rent equipment and power systems,” according to Caroline McConnie, vice president of Rimco. “We are also going to have a warehouse for spare parts for the equipment and shops to able to repair the equipment on site or in the field.”

The company will be facing competition, though. Dutch equipment rental company Womy officially opened its facility this week in the Mariel Special Development Zone, which offers tax breaks to incentivize foreign companies to invest.

It also allowed Womy to fully own the operation rather than work as a joint venture with the Cuban government.

“The good thing there is that we can decide if we need spare parts, we can buy spare parts, whatever we need we do,” Andy van der Heijden said. “Of course, it goes by the regulations of Mariel, but that works fantastic.”

After a slow start, Mariel is starting to take shape. Last year, the global consumer products company Unilever laid the first stone for a new plant manufacturing toothpaste and detergents. A Mexican-owned paint factory is also now under construction.

Cuba’s President Raul Castro has described Mariel as the most important project being built on the island. It’s the base, he said, for the economic take-off the country needs.

The Brazilian Development Bank provided the main financing for the container port. But because of the continuing U.S. trade embargo, most foreign banks are unwilling to do business with Cuba.

The director general of the Mariel project, however, remains confident that the free trade zone will continue to attract much needed foreign investment.

“We believe that there will always be businesses who have faith in this country – as Womy has – and that there will always be possibilities for foreign companies to establish themselves here, including the Americans,” Ana Teresa Igarza said.

According to Igarza, 12 more new projects have been approved for this flagship development zone.

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